So does your team sing to the same tune? Is teamwork working effectively?
An essential ingredient of enjoying successful relationships at work is effective teamwork and being accountable. But being accountable seems to be less evident than it used to be.
So why has accountability become rare? And so we are clear, by that I mean, when did we stop holding people accountable for reporting or answering for their actions or decisions to others?
Most business situations demand accountability; otherwise how can we possibly measure individual or organizational progress? A while ago, I was working with the marketing team of a client who was responsible for helping run marketing programs with their accounts. Business was good and growing, but, like everyone else, they had their challenges with a changing market.
Internally there was trouble and strife with a fighting-fires culture, arguments about who committed to what and why, people turning up late for meetings, and timelines being missed. How could this possibly be the case? They had weekly staff meetings, action items were tracked, and a dashboard was posted quarterly. The answer: there was no accountability. No-one was holding anyone accountable for commitments that had been broken.
Furthermore, when I asked how they were measured, they were vague and suggested that they were measured on how effective they spent the marketing funds. I was amazed to find that none of the team had specific goals for the year.
I probed. How do you define effective? How much is spent on what? Does the account provide feedback on how effective they think the programs are? Are sales part of the evaluation or is it awareness, click-throughs, visits? What targets have been set? What measures are in place that ensures brand positioning and creative criteria are met? And so on. I didn’t get any good answers.
This team, with millions of dollars at their disposal, not only isn’t measured and held accountable for their key actions, but neither is their boss. Millions can be spent, or not, and there appeared to be no consequences for missed timelines, missed targets, and few success criteria.
This is at best grossly negligent and at worst unprofessional and ineffective. The bad news for that team is that management will soon recognize it as ineffective and will decide those funds can be spent better elsewhere or by a different team. The net result is the same; no more team.
This is just one example, but I have come across numerous others in my career and I find it baffling.
I think one of the reasons this occurs is political correctness. When we began worrying about being politically correct and thus avoiding conflict, directness began to disappear. When it becomes an issue to be direct, call people out and have difficult conversations to get to the bottom of lack of performance, then accountability appears to go out of the window. No real discussion takes place.
The second reason is the whole negative mindset of being a Loser. We all have to be winners. If you are not a winner you are, by definition, a loser. Everything has to have a spin on it. Anything that will not point the finger at it being someone’s, and God forbid, MY fault. Being perceived a loser means becoming a social pariah, an outcast, a failure!
Just look at all the expressions used in business. They are nearly ALL based on sports situations. “Step up to the plate,” “behind the eight ball,” “cheap shot,” “curve ball,” “move the goalposts,” are all examples used in offices and in conversations every single day. We have taken these sports analogies and turned them into winning and losing at work.
To use another sports expression, “we go on defense.” So we start blaming anything but ourselves. It’s the company, it’s my workers, it’s my manager, it’s all of the management or the ultimate blame of “it’s the organization.”
This is very unhealthy and has several serious repercussions. First, we never fix the problem. If we don’t get to the bottom of where the real issue was, we can’t start having a serious conversation about how to fix it.
Secondly, if we can’t learn how to fix it, we can’t prevent it from happening again. So we can’t learn from the mistake and we just perpetuate it.
Thirdly, we encourage a cover-your-backside mentality. This is enormously unproductive and means an enormous amount of energy is being spent merely to prevent blame coming our way.
So how do we try and change this. I would suggest there are 5 elements that need to be present to create a culture of accountability:
1. Define Responsibilities
Provide a defined area and the types of decisions that can be made.
2. Agree on Measures
Yes, we should set goals, but this is not as important as defining the key result areas.
3. Define the Consequences
This is not necessarily just what happens if we don’t achieve the goals, but should also be about what happens when we DO achieve them, such as more responsibility.
4. Make Commitments
Encourage exchanges within a team where they agree about who will take responsibility for what and being accountable for making it happen.
5. Review Performance
Consequences are meaningless if they are not applied and therefore performance must be reviewed on a regular basis.
We need to create a culture of ownership. We can’t force people to be accountable! When the work environment is designed for accountability, it will flourish. When it’s not, you’ll get stellar work from a few people – until they stop making the effort or leave for another job.
An accountable workplace won’t appear overnight, but if we put the right elements in place and stop the blame game mentality, we have a much better chance of seeing a team collaborate, learn from each other and share success together. Who knows, they may even start singing the same tune.